Attorney Ad Litem: What It Means & What One Does

An attorney ad litem becomes part of the court process when a child or incapacitated adult needs someone to represent them in court. In cases about divorce, child custody, termination of parental rights and child welfare, they usually represent the child.

Find out how attorneys ad litem compare to other ad litem professionals and what they do to ensure their client's voice is heard by the court.

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What does ad litem mean?

In Latin, ad litem means "for the lawsuit." The legal definition of ad litem is "appointed by the court to represent someone who cannot represent themselves."

You'll usually hear this phrase in the terms attorney ad litem (AAL) or guardian ad litem (GAL), who are two of the most common professionals in child custody cases.

While an attorney ad litem represents a person's wants, a GAL represents a child's best interest. Unlike a GAL, who might not have a legal background, an AAL must be a lawyer.

The court can appoint both an attorney ad litem and a guardian ad litem to a single case. An attorney ad litem could fill both roles but must give up their appointment as GAL if the child wants something that isn't in the child's best interest.

What is an attorney ad litem?

An attorney ad litem represents their client like any other attorney. They must tell the court what their client wants and do what they can to help their client get that. To represent a child, they must have training or experience in child advocacy.


The AAL's involvement largely depends on the state. Some jurisdictions require AALs for certain case types. For example, Texas requires that children have an attorney ad litem in termination of parental rights cases. Elsewhere, they're appointed on a case-by-case basis when the court decides it's necessary or approves a party's request for an AAL.


All conversations between attorney and client are confidential unless the client gives the attorney permission to disclose information to someone else.

The attorney must report any signs of child abuse or neglect or if someone is in harm's way.


An attorney ad litem's fees vary by location and how long they're on the case. Typically, they charge upwards of $1,000.

The court covers the cost for low-income parties; however, if one party requests the attorney, they're responsible for paying regardless of income level. If parties can pay, they either split costs evenly or pay in proportion to their incomes.

What does an attorney ad litem do?

When representing a child, the AAL:

  • Interviews the child, others involved in the case and people who know about the child's past and current condition
  • Figures out what the child wants in order to build a strong case to present to the court
  • Investigates the facts of the case
  • Reviews school, medical and other records related to the child
  • Attends hearings, trial and other court proceedings

During their investigation, they ask the child questions about home life, such as what they talk about with Mom and Dad. The AAL ask parents about parenting goals, among other things.

Though it's typically not required, the attorney ad litem could write a report detailing their findings. They might even make recommendations for custody, parenting time and child support to the court.

The AAL must meet with their client (or the client's parent or guardian if the child client is very young) before every court hearing.

They must also be upfront about the possible outcome of the case. If the court is unlikely to order the arrangement the child wants, the attorney will present their client with alternatives the court is more likely to approve.

If the AAL doesn't listen to the child, the child or parent can file a grievance with the court. In this document, the child or parent explains their issues with the attorney so the court can decide whether to remove the attorney from the case.

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